University of Sheffield (UNITED KINGDOM)
About this paper:
Appears in: EDULEARN14 Proceedings
Publication year: 2014
Pages: 6737-6750
ISBN: 978-84-617-0557-3
ISSN: 2340-1117
Conference name: 6th International Conference on Education and New Learning Technologies
Dates: 7-9 July, 2014
Location: Barcelona, Spain
What does good ‘e-learning design’ mean? What can it learn from other design disciplines? And, what are the underpinning principles that can be used to create or judge a good ‘e-learning design’. This paper explores these questions. It reaches out to the various communities who are involved in undertaking the design e-learning experiences, and argues that there are some fundamental and integrated design principles that can be usefully applied in the process of design.

The research in this paper is based on a longitudinal action research study (over 4 years) of the design and implementation of an e-learning process. This study was iterative in that the original designs were overhauled several times, in order to improve the respective journeys of the learner communities. In undertaking these iterations, it was considered desirable to put the common conception of a ‘learning system’ and its design assumptions, under the conceptual knife. As such, the various designs were challenged, but also the notion of design itself. This follows the claims that e-learning is challenging many assumptions about the process of learning itself, its priorities, pedagogy, learner and teacher roles and relationships and the like, e.g. Garrison & Vaughan 2008. This resonates somewhat with those who grappled with earlier technologies and media, and how societal and organisational structures tend to act as some sort of constraint on the full capabilities and opportunities afforded by them, e.g. "we live mythically and integrally ... but continue to think in the old, fragmented space and time patterns of the pre-electric age”, McLuhan 1964, p.4. In the case of a disruptive technology, many assumptions need radical re-thinking. Existing e-learning literature recognises this to some degree. For example, it is recognised that is new opportunity in new technology such as mashup or personal learning environments, e.g. Liber & Johnson, 2008, Atwell 2007, new pedagogic opportunities e.g. Fiedler & Väljataga, 2010, new community learning approaches, e.g. Wenger, 1998; Laxton & Applebee 2010. However, existing literature does not follow through to provide an integrated method of e-learning process design.

The paper provides a framework to situate e-learning designs, and the way each make specific assumptions about a given process of e-learning. The paper argues that whilst there have been great strides taken in recent years (e.g. Clow 2013), the formal and integrated process of design, remains somewhat overlooked. This results in rather serendipitous outcomes, and mixed learner experiences. The paper proposes learning design principles that are drawn from some of the specific traditions of systemic and human design.

The paper is structured as follows:
Section 1 outlines the action learning project, and provides some insight into its iterations and key decision points.
Section 2 develops an evaluation framework – which situates the subsequent discussion on the way existing e-learning approaches make assumptions about the nature of the e-learning process.
Section 3 discusses the nature of a systemic design as it relates to e-learning, and how this can help to integrate existing approaches to e-learning.
Systems, E-Learning, Design, Action Research.